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As caravan after caravan of task force officers poured into Georgia’s Pulaski State Prison compound to secure the facility for COVID-19 vaccinations in June, those on the inside remained divided between inmates who trusted the vaccine and those who were skeptical.

Timothy Ward, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Corrections, had visited the facility on April 28 to answer questions about conspiracy theories circulating about Covid-19 vaccine safety and to sway inmates to consider taking the shot. The first vaccine was administered on April 30. 

Not everyone had been convinced.

“No one has cured AIDS in 70 years, but they had the COVID-19 vaccine ready in three days,” inmate Nelaunte Grant said. “I can’t trust something like that.” 

The vaccines were only administered to offenders who signed an agreement. Vaccine skeptics said it was like signing a death certificate.

But thoughts of contact visitation and transfers still pushed many inmates to agree to vaccination. I overheard a prison administrator say that more than half of the inmates have gotten vaccinated.

According to the COVID Prison Project at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, about 63% of incarcerated people have had at least one vaccination as of July 2021.

The divide was great and the debates heated. Views on whether the vaccines were safe were widely discussed between officers, the residents, staff and administration.

The morning vaccines were administered, prisoners were instructed to report out in white T-shirts, with one sleeve rolled all the way up on the arm they wanted the shot, and an ID on their collar. Inmates were given bottled water to drink as they moved up in the mile-long line to get the shot, with an officer on every corner and along every sidewalk. The vaccine was administered at three stations in the administration building. Afterward residents received a goodie bag worth an estimated $5 and were led back to their housing units.

This was the process for both shots, with the second being administered 25 days after the first dose on June 1. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea were the most common side effects reported by those who took the vaccine. 

I was among those who received the vaccine. I felt fatigue and soreness after the first shot, but the symptoms for the second shot were worse. I was tired and felt almost depressed. I also had a headache for almost 24 hours. 

Witnessing these symptoms prompted anti-vacciners to feel justified in their beliefs that taking the vaccine was unsafe.

(Additional reporting by Caitlin Wong)

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Ladrina Johnson

Ladrina Johson is a writer and beekeeper incarcerated in Georgia. She calls herself a social butterfly who loves people and things.